Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

The Yankees were off yesterday for the final time this season. Twenty-one games in the next 20 days next up — they play a doubleheader against the Orioles in Baltimore on Friday — then we’ll either be celebrating the team’s miraculous return to the postseason or preparing for an offseason that should be mighty interesting. Here are some random thoughts heading into tonight’s series opener against the Rays.

1. First things first, the Yankees haven’t announced a starter for the second game of Friday’s doubleheader but that’s not really a big deal because of the expanded rosters. David Phelps should be activated off the disabled list before then, so the team will be able to stitch the game together with two or three innings apiece from guys like Phelps, David Huff, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley. I guess it all depends on who is needed in relief these next three games. Either way, cobbling together enough pitching for that doubleheader won’t be a problem. September call-ups make it a piece of cake.

2. With free agency becoming diluted, one of the few notable free agent outfield bats available this winter will be ex-Yankee Melky Cabrera. He had a big season with the Blue Jays, hitting .301/.351/.458 (124 wRC+) with 35 doubles and 16 homers before breaking a finger sliding into a base over the weekend, ending his season. Obviously there is a lot of skepticism surrounded Melky gives his past PED issues, but he is only 30 years old and he’s a true switch-hitter who hits both lefties (116 wRC+) and righties (127 wRC+). Plus he never strikes out (10.8%), which is a highly desirable trait in this strikeout heavy age. His defense isn’t anything special but he does have a strong arm for right field. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) suggested Melky could wind up with Shane Victorino’s contract (three years, $39M) while a scout told Jeff Blair teams are willing to offer Jhonny Peralta’s contract (four years, $52M). My gut says Cabrera will wind up with the bigger contract of those two, given the market. Does Melky make sense for the Yankees at that price? The team already has three outfielders under contract at a combined $50M or so per year the next two years. Would they really add a fourth eight-figure outfielder? The Yankees can use someone like Melky in the lineup, but I’m not sure he fits unless they trade Brett Gardner.

3. Now, that said, I think Carlos Beltran has to be the everyday DH next season. Or at least the most of the time DH, four or five games a week. There are two reasons for this. One, the guy is barely mobile at this point of his career and he’s a Raul Ibanez-esque liability in right field. My tolerance for bad defensive corner outfielders is surprisingly high, but not that high. Beltran’s been scary bad in right this year. Two, his health. I know Beltran is having the bone spur taken out of his elbow this winter, but he also has bad knees and at his age, the likelihood of breaking down physically is pretty high. Giving him more time at DH should reduce his injury risk, in theory. So, in this scenario the Yankees would have room for someone like Melky in right field, but again, are they willing to spent that much money on another outfielder? If the Yankees are going to hand out another $10M+ per year contract to a position player, the infield seems like the place to do it.

4. Stephen Drew has not hit a lick with the Yankees (32 wRC+) but I contend the trade was still worth it because now the team knows he is definitely not the guy to sign to play shortstop next season. The fact that he isn’t even playing regularly at this point seems like they are admitting that is the case. Besides, it’s not like the Yankees gave up anything of value to get him in the first place. They took a low-cost flier and it didn’t work out, that’s life. I don’t believe Drew is really as bad as he’s shown this year but I also don’t think the “he didn’t have a proper Spring Training” excuse is all that valid anymore either. He’s at 239 plate appearances and shown no signs of snapping out of it. (It’s worth noting Kendrys Morales is still struggling to find his way after signing late as well.) The upcoming free agent market is shockingly deep with shortstops, namely Drew, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, and Asdrubal Cabrera. I assume the Yankees will sign one of those guys — they all have their pluses and minuses, I don’t see an obvious one to target right now — and eliminating Drew from the pack makes life that much easier. These few weeks after the trade were an audition and Drew flunked.

(Tom Pennington/Getty )
(Tom Pennington/Getty )

5. What exactly is Brendan Ryan‘s role on the Yankees going forward? I know they re-signed him (two years plus a player option!) as a backup plan for Derek Jeter should his ankle give him more trouble this year, but I don’t buy for a second that they would install him as the starting shortstop next year. I’d much rather see the Yankees re-sign Drew before going with Ryan as the starter. They’d have to whiff on every one of the free agent shortstop for Ryan to get a chance to play everyday, and I don’t see that happening. Ryan’s contract isn’t exactly an albatross ($2M in 2015) but he has no trade value. He has played in seven of the team’s last 33 games (five starts) and really doesn’t seem to have a defined role at this point. I wonder if the Yankees would look for a better backup infield infielder, then outright Ryan off the 40-man roster and down to Triple-A Scranton. If he gets claimed off waivers, so be it. He won’t refuse the outright assignment if he clears waivers because then he would forfeit the remainder of his contract, and I have a hard time believing that will happen. It’s a weird situation. No hit, all glove backup infielders have zero value if they’re playing as infrequently as Ryan does.

6. As far as second base goes, I think my perfect world scenario has Martin Prado at second and Alex Rodriguez at third base to open next season. A-Rod is coming back and I’m sure the Yankees will stick him out there at the hot corner early on. Then, when Alex inevitably gets injured, the Yankees slide Prado to third base and play Rob Refsnyder at second. A-Rod hasn’t played a full healthy season since 2007 and I have no reason to think 2015 will be the year he does it. Not at age 39 and after two hip surgeries and nearly two full years away from the game. I like Prado the most at second base, he fits there way better than in right field or at third base in my opinion, but I also want the Yankees to give Refsnyder a chance next year. I mean, at some point they have to try one of their young position players, and he’s the obvious candidate knocking on the door. Prado’s versatility gives the team flexibility and I’m sure Rodriguez’s brittle body will create the opportunity.

Monday Night Open Thread

Today is the final scheduled off-day of the season for the Yankees. They’ll close out the 2014 regular season with 21 games in 20 days — they have a doubleheader against the Orioles this Friday — before heading into what will surely be one of the most interesting offseasons in recent franchise history. (I think I said that last year too.) Unless they make a miraculous comeback these next three weeks, picking up the pieces following back-to-back postseason-less years will be a daunting task.

Here is your open thread for the off-night. The Mets are playing, MLB Network is airing a regional game, and the Monday Night Football game is the Giants at the Lions. Good night for the Yankees to be off, I’d say. Talk about any of those games or anything else right here.

Yankees outright Zoilo Almonte to Triple-A Scranton

The Yankees have outrighted outfielder Zoilo Almonte to Triple-A Scranton, according to the official league transactions. That means he went unclaimed on waivers. Almonte can not refuse the assignment since this is his first outright, but I believe he is due to become a minor league free agent in a few weeks anyway. I would expect him to sign elsewhere since it’s pretty obvious he won’t get much of an opportunity in New York.

Almonte, 25, hit .261/.311/.436 (103 wRC+) with 18 homers in 105 Triple-A games this season. He’s had several unsuccessful (39 wRC+) big league cameos over the last two seasons. Almonte is a switch-hitter in name only — he absolutely can not hit left-handers — but he has some pop against righties and can play good defense in the two corners. I thought he could be a useful platoon/fourth outfielder, but the fact that every other team could have had him for free off waivers but passed is telling.

David Phelps throws 31-pitch simulated game, could be activated soon

As expected, David Phelps faced hitters in a simulated game yesterday for the first time since going down with elbow inflammation last month. He threw 31 pitches and felt fine. “I feel like I made some good pitches. I was just nice to be out there with some adrenaline flowing. It feels good enough to get guys out right now,” he said to Brian Heyman.

The Yankees will see how Phelps feels in the coming days before deciding on the next step, and it’s entirely possible he will be activated off the disabled list before throwing another simulated game. The team already announced he will return as a reliever — at this point of the season I’m not sure there’s enough time to get him all the way stretched out to start anyway — and I’m sure he’ll jump right into some kind of quasi-high-leverage role similar to what Adam Warren is doing right now.

2015 Schedule Released: Yankees open at home against Blue Jays

MLB released the 2015 regular season schedule this afternoon, and the Yankees will open next season at home against the Blue Jays on Monday, April 6th. The season begins with the ESPN Sunday Night game on April 5th — the league says details about that game are forthcoming — then all 30 teams play on Monday. There are no more staggered starts like this season, when the Yankees and Astros opened on a Tuesday and were literally the last teams to play their first game of 2014.

The team’s full schedule can be seen right here. After the season-opening three-game series with Toronto — the two teams are off on Tuesday, the annual “just in case it rains on Opening Day” off-day — the Yankees will play three games against the Red Sox before heading out on a ten-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa, and Detroit. As always, April is heavy with intra-division play against AL East rivals. Here are some more schedule details:

  • Subway Series: Rather than the usual four-game home-and-home series, the Subway Series will be split up next season. The Yankees and Mets will play three games at Yankee Stadium from April 24-26 (Friday to Sunday), then another three games at Citi Field from September 18-20 (also Friday to Sunday).
  • 2009 World Series Rematch: The Yankees will play three games against the Phillies in Yankee Stadium from June 22-24. That’s Monday through Wednesday. The two teams will not play in Philadelphia next summer.
  • Interleague Play: The NL East is up for interleague play next year, hence the six games against the Mets. In addition to the Mets and Phillies series, the Yankees will travel to Washington (May 19-20) and Atlanta (August 28-30), and play a four-game home-and-home series with the Marlins (June 15-18). Giancarlo Stanton is coming to the Bronx, people. The Nationals will also be at Yankee Stadium from June 9-10.
  • West Coast: The Yankees only have two West Coast trips next year. They go to Oakland (May 28-31) and Seattle (June 1-3), then Houston (June 25-28) and Anaheim (June 29-July 1). Houston isn’t on the West Coast, but it’s a stop on the way. The Yankees are done with the West Coast before the All-Star break.
  • All-Star Game: The All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday, July 14th next year. The game is at The Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Homerun Derby will be Monday the 13th and the Futures Game will be Sunday the 12th.
  • End of the Season: As usual, the Yankees will close the season out with a bunch of games against AL East clubs. They’ll play four games at home against the Red Sox (Sept. 28-Oct. 1) and then three on the road in Baltimore (Oct. 2-4) to close out the year. Twenty-six of their final 33 games will be played within the division.

Joel Sherman says MLB wanted to avoided opening the season in March, which is why the first games will be played on April 5th and 6th. That means the regular season ends in early-October, like the good ol’ days. That last series against the Orioles could wind up being pretty important.

Betances and Robertson give Yankees modern day Rivera and Wetteland

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Just about all summer, Joe Girardi and the Yankees have enjoyed arguably the most dominant setup man/closer tandem in baseball in Dellin Betances and David Robertson. The team has scaled back on Betances’ workload in recent weeks but for the most of the season he was a multi-inning monster who would regularly bridge the gap from starter to closer all by himself. Robertson has been dynamite in his first season as closer, making the transition to the post-Mariano Rivera era relatively painless.

The Yankees had a similarly dominant late-game duo the last few years thanks to the Robertson and Rivera, though Robertson has always been a true one-inning reliever, not a four or five or six out guy. The multi-inning reliever is a dying breed, especially when it comes to late-inning guys. The last time the Yankees had a duo like Betances and Robertson, meaning an overwhelming multi-inning setup man and a shutdown closer, was way back to 1996, when Rivera was setting up John Wetteland.

There are more than a few similarities between the 1996 duo and the 2014 duo. Betances, like Rivera, was scuffling along for much of his early-20s, trying to make it work as a starting pitcher before moving into the bullpen full-time. They both opened the season in an undefined middle relief role before pitching their way into some more responsibility — Rivera threw 15 straight hitless innings at one point from mid-April through early-May in 1996, which is a great way to earn the manager’s trust — and eventually a no-doubt high-leverage role. Robertson has a knack for making things interesting but gets the job done more often than not, similar to Wetteland.

Statistically, there isn’t much of a comparison. Betances and Robertson have been quite a bit more effective this year than Rivera and Wetteland in 1996, at least on a rate basis. Wetteland and (mostly) Rivera did throw a ton of innings back in the day, a workload Betances and Robertson won’t sniff this year:

Innings WHIP ERA FIP K% BB% K/BB
2014 Betances & Robertson 137.1 0.84 1.97 1.84 39.4% 7.6% 5.18
1996 Rivera & Wetteland 171.1 1.06 2.36 2.57 28.8% 8.0% 3.43

Rivera and Wetteland also excelled in the postseason in 1996, combining to allow only four runs in 26.2 innings (1.35 ERA) during the team’s march to the World Series title. Wetteland saved four games in five days en route to being named World Series MVP. Hopefully Betances and Robertson get a chance to strut their stuff in the postseason next month, but eh. Things aren’t looking too hot right now.

The similarities don’t stop there either. Betances (26) and Robertson (29) are the same age right now that Rivera and Wetteland were back in 1996, respectively. That’s sorta freaky. Robertson is also due to become a free agent this offseason just like Wetteland became a free agent following the 1996 season. The Yankees let him walk and installed Rivera as their closer. The team is going to face a similar decision this winter — do they let Robertson go and hand the ninth inning reigns over to Dellin?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with re-signing Robertson and keeping one of the game’s most dominant late-game bullpen pairs together for another few seasons. In fact I would prefer it. I don’t mean that as a slight on Betances either. I think he’d be able to close no problem just like I thought Robertson would have no trouble closing this year, but there is no such thing as having too many great relievers. The game has changed a lot in the last two decades. Deep bullpens are imperative these days because no one scores runs anymore and every game is close.

Eighteen years ago, the Yankees had an advantage over every team they played thanks to Rivera and Wetteland. Rivera’s ability to go multiple innings — he went two full innings in 35 of 61 appearances and three full innings eight times — combined with Wetteland’s ninth inning reliability effective made it a six-inning game for New York. Girardi has had the same luxury this year thanks to Betances and Robertson. Both guys are having phenomenal seasons and they’ve been essential in keeping the Yankees in the race this summer.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 8th, 2014

Record Last Week: 3-3 (20 RS, 19 RA)
Season Record: 73-68 (555 RS, 581 RA, 67-74 pythag. record) 9.5 GB in ALE, 4.5 GB of WC
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Rays (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Orioles (four games, Fri. to Sun.)

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